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Fontica, Diccin y Trabajos de Laboratorio III

Area Ingles- IFDC N 5 J.E.Tello- 2010

Rita Aldorino, MA en Educacin

What is complementary distribution?

Complementary distribution is the mutually exclusive relationship between two phonetically
similar segments. It exists when one segment occurs in an environment where the other
segment never occurs.
Complementary distribution is commonly applied to phonology, where similar phones in
complementary distribution are usually allophones of the same phoneme. For instance, in
English, [p] and [p] are allophones of the phoneme /p/ because they occur in complementary
distribution. [p] always occurs when it is the syllable onset and followed by a stressed vowel
(as in the word pin). [p] occurs in all other situations (as in the word spin).
There are cases where elements are in complementary distribution, but are not considered
allophones. For example in English [h] and [] (engma, written as "ng" in English) are in
complementary distribution, since [h] only occurs at the beginning of a syllable and [] only at
the end. But because they have so little in common they are still considered separate
phonemes. (
A phoneme is made up of certain features that are basic to it. When this phoneme occurs in
certain phonetic environments, one or more of its features may undergo changes caused by
those environments.
Examples (English)
The phones [p] and [pH] are in complementary distribution. [pH] occurs syllable-initially in a
stressed syllable, but [p] never does, as demonstrated here:








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Fontica, Diccin y Trabajos de Laboratorio III

Area Ingles- IFDC N 5 J.E.Tello- 2010
Rita Aldorino, MA en Educacin

Free variation
Free variation in linguistics is the phenomenon of two (or more) sounds or forms appearing in the
same environment without a change in meaning and without being considered incorrect by native
speakers. Examples from English include:

glottalization of voiceless stops in word-final position: for example, the word stop may be
pronounced with a plain unaspirated [p], [stp], or with a glottalized [p], [stp]
the word economics may be pronounced with /i/ or // in the first syllable; although individual
speakers may prefer one or the other, and although one may be more common in some
dialects than others, both forms are encountered within a single dialect and sometimes even
within a single idiolect
the comparative of many disyllabic adjectives can be formed either with the word more or with
the suffix -er, for example more stupid or stupider.

What is free variation?

Free variation is the interchangeable relationship between two phones, in which the
phones may substitute for one another in the same environment without causing a
change in meaning.
Free variation may occur between allophones or phonemes.
Examples (English)
In utterance-final position, there is free variation between unreleased and
aspirated plosives, as demonstrated below:
[hat|] hat
[hath] hat
In the word data, there is free variation between the phonemes /eJ/
and /Q/, as demonstrated below:
[deira] data
[dara] data